Written by Nick Dika, Cole Nefsky, and Joshua Howsam
Kendrys Morales and Edwin Encarnacion are NOT really Having Similar Seasons
With Toronto taking on Cleveland this weekend, the comparisons of two players inextricably tied to each other in many Blue Jays’ fans minds will face off for the second time this season: Kendrys Morales and Edwin Encarnacion.
You all know this story by now. The free agent market moved in a direction that no one (not general managers, not player agents, and not Jose Bautista) expected. The Blue Jays moved early to fill their designated hitter vacancy and signed Kendrys Morales to a three-year/$33 million contract. With the market for first base/DH types drying up, the Blue Jays franchise icon and first choice, signed a month later in Cleveland for three years and $60 million (keep in mind the deal has an option for a fourth year) – fewer years and dollars than the Jays offered at the beginning of the offseason in either case.
A look at more traditional stats have led some to suggest Morales (.255 AVG, 17 HR, 52 RBI) and Encarnacion (.255, 19 HR, 50 RBI) are having similar seasons. But when it comes to some of the less traditional elements of offensive production, Encarnacion has been far better than Morales in 2017.
When it comes to getting on base, Encarnacion’s on-base percentage is 60 points higher than Morales’. Encarnacion’s 55 walks also mean he has been on base 32 more times than Morales already this season. Encarnacion’s ability to reach base has likely contributed to more runs scored: 57 to Morales’ 43.
The odd thing is that Morales does hit the ball harder than Encarnacion. The Jays’ current DH is in the top-25 in all of baseball in terms of average exit velocity, ahead of players like Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera with an average exit velocity of 92.1 miles per hour. EE meanwhile sits a tick above league average (87.69) at 88.68 mph. Despite his outstanding exit velocity, what seems to be limiting the damage of Morales’ hard hit balls is his groundball tendency. Morales has hit the ball on the ground 50.2% of the time this season compared to 31.9% of the time for Encarnacion. League average should be around 44%.
The mere fact that Kendrys Morales is the next player to occupy the DH position doesn’t mean we need to measure him against his predecessor. Morales can be better, no move is made in a vacuum and ultimately, it sure doesn’t feel like the difference between a successful and unsuccessful 2017 for the Blue Jays would be Edwin’s bat in the lineup (assuming he doesn’t play left field that is). Because of a high walk rate and his ability to keep the ball off the ground, Encarnacion has been a much more productive player than Kendrys Morales this season even with a slow start and a drop in Encarnacion’s slugging percentage. Despite what the national TV broadcast stats say Edwin is the far better offensive player. But don’t worry…because Justin Smoak is a beast now.
After coming out of the gate with a modified style, swinging for the fences, and clearly buying into all of the air-ball-revolution hubbub, Francisco Lindor has been pretty disappointing this season. His TAv sits at .259, a career low, which looks even worse when you consider how hot he started. There was even a point, albeit very early in the season, when Ben Lindbergh on the Effectively Wild podcast addressed the question of whether or not Lindor had taken Mike Trout’s place as the top player in the league.
This point, though seemingly silly on its surface, was actually one well-made and worth considering. Last year, Lindor was one of the best defensive shortstops in the league with 19.3 FRAA. If you combine that with the ~.320 TAv that he had early in the year, that gives you a player with better WARP than Trout. Since then, though, Lindor hasn’t been very good at all. The two components causing this are his BABIP, sitting at .266, and his glove, worth -1.3 FRAA. That’s right, the Lindor Effect, coined by Jeff Sullivan, seems to have disappeared from the world entirely.
Now, this means two things of note. The first is that he has been extraordinarily bad, suggesting that he has probably had some sort of skill deterioration. The other is that it is more than possible that you should expect Lindor to regress somewhat back to the mean. His .266 BABIP isn’t average, where it used to be above average. It’s not even just below average. It is downright terrible. Fielding, on the other hand, doesn’t often make 20 run true talent turnarounds between seasons. Francisco Lindor has been one of my favorite players to watch since his ascendency to the Bigs, and I hope that he returns to being that player. Just maybe after the series against the Jays.
LOTS OF STRIKEOUTS
It’s not real secret that the Jays aren’t designed to be a team that makes a ton of contact. Built around the expected power of guys like Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, and Russell Martin, this club was always expected to strike out at a higher than average clip. Surprisingly though, as a team they have the 12th fewest strikeouts in baseball and the sixth fewest in the American League. So as a whole, the club actually strikes out less than the average club.
That’s likely going to change in this series, however. The Cleveland pitching staff has had its great performances and mediocre or a bad ones, but across the board they have one thing in common: They are really good at striking hitters out; Cleveland’s staff as a whole has a K/9 of 10.03, which ranks second in baseball to the Houston Astros (10.2).
Typically people associate the daunting Cleveland bullpen or ace Corey Kluber with the big strikeout rate. They’d be correct of course, as Kluber, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Boone Logan all have K/9’s over 12.00, but they’re not the only sources. The Jays are lucky to miss Kluber in this series, but they’ll still have trouble with the remaining starters.
The Jays are likely to see the trio of Trevor Bauer (unless he starts playing with drones again), Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Their respective K/9s: 10.1, 10.0, 12.6. That’s a LOT of swing and miss. Then if they get into the earlier parts of the Cleveland pen, the Jays will still have to deal with Nick Goody (10.4) and Zack McAllister (10.6).
It’ll be interesting to see how the Jays adjust to these types of arms. Salazar and Bauer can absolutely be hit hard (as evidenced by their respective ERAs of 5.40 and 5.59), but the swing and miss means Toronto will likely have trouble stringing hits together (a problem they have faced all season). This could mean more dreaded smallball (the Blue Jays are actually second in the AL in sac bunts), but in the end, to win the series the Jays will need to rely on the long ball as they have for much of the past two seasons. If they hit home runs, they have a great shot to win the series and finish the road trip at or better than .500 (they’re currently 3-4). If the ball stays in the yard, Cleveland shouldn’t have too much difficulty with Toronto.
Now it looks like the Jays WILL face Kluber in Sunday’s finale. Yikes.
Lead Photo © Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports